The Los Angeles Unified School District has agreed to pay $5 million to a young woman who was sexually abused as a teen by a middle school teacher.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the girl was 13 when Elkis Hermida, a math teacher at Thomas Edison Middle School, began grooming her, according to a 2012 lawsuit. Hermida molested the girl for seven months in his classroom and near the school.
Attorneys for the woman, who is now 20, say the payout is the largest single-victim settlement by the L.A. district.
Hermida pleaded no contest in 2011 to committing a lewd act and was sentenced to prison for three years.
Attorneys for the school district fought the lawsuit and accused the girl, who was in eighth grade during the abuse, of consenting to the activity. A jury found in favor of the district in 2013, but an appeals court overturned the verdict.
The appellate court panel ruled that the lower court judge never should have allowed such evidence to be presented and ordered a new trial.
The case led California lawmakers in 2015 to abolish so-called minor’s “consent” as a defense in abuse cases and set the standards for what is acceptable evidence and argument in childhood sexual abuse cases.
“She was abused in the classroom and victimized a second time in the courtroom,” said John Taylor, one of the woman’s attorneys. “Her courage and persistence will make it easier for other abuse victims to pursue their claims without fear of being blamed for the abuse.”
The settlement was reached Friday, three days before a new trial was slated to begin.
Officials from L.A. Unified declined to comment because the agreement has yet to be formally approved by the court.
In the original lawsuit, school district lawyers argued that the key issue in the case was whether the district knew — or should have known — that Hermida was abusing the girl.
Evidence in court proceedings, however, showed that schoolteachers and administrators ignored multiple red flags signaling Hermida’s inappropriate conduct with female students.
The teacher openly hugged female students as they entered his classroom and had them sit on his lap, court documents show. He also was accused of rearranging the furniture in class to create a hidden alcove, where some of the sexual abuse against the girl took place during school hours.